They were approximately 2,000 feet deep to the stone drifts or roadways by which the two working seams, Great-Row and the Fourfeet, were reached. From the shafts two parallel stone drifts had been driven, dipping in a S.W. direction to tap the Fourfeet seam through the Apedale fault, estimated to be a 700 yards down throw. A fault is a fracture of the coal seam caused by earth movement; (is called an up throw where the seam continues at a higher level) or a down throw where it continues at a lower level.

The intake road - this is an airway along which fresh air is taken into the workings, as opposed to 'return' airway carrying foul air from the workings to the upcast shaft - was level for a distance of 125 yards from the downcast shaft and continued in a straight line for a further half mile at a dipping gradient of 1 in 11 and through the Apedale fault.

At this point it became evident that the Fourfeet seam was at a lower horizon than anticipated, so the gradient was increased, at first to 1 in 4 and later to 1 in 3 until the seam was reached. Therefore, a straight road, 1,390 yards long from the shaft to the coal face, had been developed into a double unit face 230 yards long. The floor of the seam was of fireclay, and the coal seam was 4ft 9ins thick with soft blue shale in the roof. The coal was undercut to a depth of 6 ft and then blasted down and loaded onto the face belt conveyor, which went onto the main gate belt conveyor to the haulage road.

The managing director Mr John Cocks carried out the supervision of the colliery. Other victims of the disaster were the manager J.O.Davies, and under manager, H.L.Adkins.

In the Fourfeet seam there were 8 firemen, 3 on days, 3 on noons and 2 on nights. An overman was on each shift. There was an average of between 60 to 70 miners on each shift, producing about 350 tons per day.

On the morning of the 2nd July, 1937, two coal cutter men, Herman Payne and Wm. Beardmore, at about 5.45 a.m. were cutting along the face with the machine when Beardmore, who was shovelling away the coal cuttings, saw a flame which seemed to run round with the picks for a moment then extended under the cut coal. The flame flashed back along the holing to where cutting had begun, a distance of 7 or 8 yards, then came out of the cut and spread up the coalface towards the roof. It was described by Beardmore as being like a wall of fire. The extent of the flame and the heat arising from it was such that the first thought of those near it was to get away as quickly as possible.

At this time there were 55 persons engaged in various ways in close proximity to or at the coalface. Amongst these 55 were 3 officials, an overman and two firemen. Jesse Moore and Ernest Astles, the firemen, were quite close to the machine whilst overman Trevor Hughes was at the top end of the face near the left hand road. All the men in the proximity of the coal-cutting machine withdrew into the main gate. Others on the face withdrew via the right hand gate.
The overman, Trevor Hughes, had already taken steps to get men out of the upper end of the face. However, two men, W.Hystead and Arthur Stanton, who were engaged in building a pack in the middle waste, failed to come out.

By the time they realised their danger and made the effort, the smoke was so dense that instead of retreating by either the back dip or left hand gate, they lost their way and were overcome by smoke.

Eventually, at about 6.15.a.m, all the men, excepting Hystead and Stanton, gathered at the bottom connecting crosscut roadway to the seam and made plans to extinguish the fire. The men were instructed to carry bags of stone dust down the main dip to the face, whilst the overman and two deputies went forward to investigate. It was found the fire had taken a good hold. The timber on the face was ablaze and crackling, and with the timber no longer acting as a support, the roof near the face of the main dip was threatening to collapse.

As no one could get near the fire, the overman ordered the stone dust to be dumped and spread about as near to the fire as possible. When the futility of these efforts was apparent, another retreat was made and a roll call taken. It was not until this time, about 6.35.a.m, that the absence of the packers, Hystead and Stanton, was discovered and efforts were made to find them.

The would-be rescuers tried to explore the left hand gate and back dip, which were now the only means of access to the face or egress from it, but they were met by smoke and fumes of such density that they could make no progress. The search was abandoned, and little hope remained of the missing men being alive.

In the meantime the day shift officials, having been notified of the fire, arrived in the district. One of them, H.Bentley, under the impression that some of the searchers had gone in the right hand gate, asked a night shift ripper, John Hassell, to conduct him there. At about 6.50 a.m., whilst Bentley and Hassell were there, an explosion occurred. They were just on the fringe of the explosion. Bentley was burnt and his hair singed. With some difficulty he managed to find his way out to the main gate dip, where he learnt John Hassell had not come out. Although burnt, he went back along the roadway, accompanied by a collier named E.Beech whom he had met in the main dip, to search for the missing man, but failed to find him.

The effects of this explosion were felt at the pit bottom of the downcast shaft, where the manager, Mr Davies, ordered the men to withdraw, telling them at the same time that he and others were coming down the dip. Whilst the night shift was walking out, the effects of three further minor explosions were felt, one about 7 a.m. and the other two a few moments later. At this time there was nobody in the Fourfeet workings except the three missing men.

Proceeding up the main crut at about 7.10 a.m. the night shift party met Mr Davies, the manager, and Mr Wilfield, the under manager, who already knew about the fire and loss of two men. They were now informed that a forth explosion had occurred and that a third man had been lost in one of them.


Pit Terminology